EU clamps down on chemical over health-risk fears
Published 27/11/2010 | 05:00
THE EU has tightened controls on a 'gender bender' chemical present in food and drinks which has been linked to breast cancer, fertility problems and other illnesses.
The European Commission announced a ban on the manufacture of baby bottles containing Bisphenol A (BPA) from March 1 2011 and their importation and sale from June 1.
Many companies have already removed the plastics hardener from baby bottles, but it remains in the lids of jars of baby foods, as well as in a wide array of consumer products, including tinned food, fizzy drinks, till receipts, mobile phones and computers.
The ban is a sign of increasing concerned among regulators about the chemical, which mimics the female hormone oestrogen. Surveys show it is present in the bodies of more than 90pc of people in the western world.
The plastics and chemicals industry insists that BPA is safe, a view backed by some leading scientists, such as Professor Richard Sharpe, a fertility expert at the UK Medical Research Council.
The ban, which was announced by the European Commissioner for Health, John Dalli, brings European regulation closer into line with that in the US.
After years of insisting that BPA was safe, the US Food and Drug Administration announced in January that it had "some concern" about its potential effects on the brain, behaviour and the prostate glands of foetuses, babies and young children, and called for the industry to remove it.
Independently funded scientists suggest BPA poses a risk to human health, particularly among babies and infants with undeveloped immune systems.
Some scientists fear that it could cause a range of diseases, including breast and prostate cancers, as well as attention deficit disorders, fertility problems and obesity -- all of which are rising in the West.
Until now, Europe has always agreed with tests funded by the chemicals industry showing that BPA was safe.
In September, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) disregarded many independent peer-reviewed studies in favour of these industry studies, adding that there were still uncertainties about the substance.
France and Denmark did not agree with the EFSA and refused to revoke their own bans on BPA in baby bottles.
Referring to the EFSA's uncertainties, Mr Dalli said this week: "The EFSA decision was such that it indicated that there are doubts that Bisphenol effect can be harmful, it can be a tumour stimulator and it can also affect other things.
"And on that basis, we decided to ban the use of Bisphenol A in baby bottles."
Gwynne Lyons is a director of CHEM Trust, a UK-based pressure group which declares that its objective is to "protect humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals".
She said: "We are pleased the EC has now reduced infant exposure from BPA in baby bottles, but that is only one small step. BPA is used in many products and tests show that most people are constantly exposed."
Prof Sharpe said: "I think this is an over-reaction, but if satisfactory replacements chemicals are available, then this can be done to placate those calling for action."
The baby bottles in question are not on sale here, but the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has pledged to continue monitoring shops.